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Confirming that a half-century-old case still applies in the
internet age, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently held that a
lawsuit for defamatory statements made online can be filed almost
anywhere in the state. Fox v. Smith, Nos. 39 EAP 2019, 40
EAP 2019, 41 EAP 2019, 42 EAP 2019, 2021 Pa. LEXIS 3991 (Pa., Nov.
In Fox, an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of a town
in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, sued her opponent for allegedly
defamatory statements made during the 2017 election. Although many
of the comments were made online, everyone seemed to agree that the
statements originated from Delaware County and were primarily
targeted at individuals in Delaware County. And yet, the plaintiff
filed her lawsuit not in Delaware County, but in Philadelphia,
allegedly due to the fact that one of the plaintiff’s friends
who had read the online statements resided there. The defendant
objected, claiming venue was improper and that the suit should have
been brought in Delaware County.
In legal parlance, “venue” means the physical court
where a lawsuit may actually be heard. This is related to, but
distinct from, “jurisdiction,” which means whether a
court has authority over a person or case. So, for example, all
courts in Pennsylvania have “jurisdiction” (or…